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East Africa: Now is the time to stand up for media freedom

Abdullahi Halakhe (East Africa reseracher at Amnesty International)

At a time when fake news is on the rise and robust and critical journalism is most acutely needed, the press in East Africa is facing growing challenges. Freedom of expression more generally is also at heightened risk as governments move to silence critical voices, both in mainstream and social media.

Increased access to the internet has liberalized access to information, and contributed to the rise of individual digital advocates against government excesses, leading to attacks on journalists and bloggers. Some journalists, bloggers, and media workers have been beaten, arrested and abducted.

In Tanzania, the government has displayed hostility towards the media since President John Magufuli came to power in 2015. Praised for his fight against corruption, he has since come under sharp criticism for his assaults on media freedom and the right to freedom of expression.

In November 2016, he approved the Media Service Act 2016, which among other travesties, requires media houses to "broadcast or publish news or issues of national importance as government may direct". This sets the wrong tone and sends a dangerous signal as to how his government will deal with the Fourth Estate.

In December 2016, the police arrested Maxence Melo, the founder of the popular online discussion portal Jamii Forum that discussed topics such as corruption and other government malfeasance. He was accused of managing a web domain not registered in Tanzania, obstructing investigations, and failure to comply with an order to disclose data in his possession.

In a further incident that captured world attention, President Magufuli sacked his information minister, Nape Nnauye, after he condemned the president's ally, Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner Paul Makonde, for storming into a TV station with armed men demanding that it broadcast a video casting a local pastor in bad light.

Press freedom is on a downward spiral in East Africa. In fact, in its 2017 report released last week, press freedom watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) lamented acts of intimidation and violence against journalists in Uganda, a slow erosion of media freedom in recent years in Kenya, and a wave of laws that criminalize the dissemination of information in Tanzania. This should serve as a wake-up call to all of us to jealously defend our right to a free, unhindered and uncensored press, and all other human rights. Governments will not voluntarily uphold them. We must demand that they do.

Quelle: Amnesty International Press Release

(Letzte Aktualisierung: 10. Mai 2017)